Thursday, 15 August 2013

'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa': review

'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa' - Dir. Declan Lowney (15)

It's a familiar story by now: the successful UK TV sitcom - usually a small-scale, charmingly parochial comedy of manners or subtle character study - gets blown up to epic proportions for cinema screens, in a way that can't help but detract from what made the series work in its original form. That's not to say many of these films aren't fun to watch, especially for fans deprived of fresh TV episodes, but this tried and tested formula rarely results in anything that holds a candle to the small-screen original.

'The Inbetweeners Movie' could be held up as a good example of this well-worn trope working well: that film taking its teenage cast on a summer holiday to Crete is completely in keeping with the characters and the result is something very much in the spirit of the show. Though perhaps Armando Iannucci's 'In the Loop' does the best job of maintaining the spirit of its source, BBC TV series The Thick of It, in spite of transporting the back-room dealings and ineffectual PR spin antics of its British cabinet minister to Washington, DC. So, on a first glance, it would seem a shame that another Iannucci TV creation would be catapulting themselves rights over the shark on their debut big-screen outing.

'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa' - a new vehicle for Steve Coogan's long-running character co-created with Iannucci (among others) for radio comedy On the Hour, and the star of several TV series and specials since - sees the middling local radio DJ caught up in a hostage crisis and forced to become an unlikely negotiator between disgruntled, shotgun-toting DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) and the East Anglia police force. It seems like a set-up slightly off-kilter with the former chat show host's world, as gleaned over the years in shows like I'm Alan Partridge, but it doesn't play that way in practice. Happily this movie Partridge is as nuanced as ever and - though there are some broader moments to satisfy the film's wider audience - all the best moments stem from the character's trademark small-minded asides and from little character moments: for instance as he bemoans people who insist on keeping eggs in the fridge.

Fan favourite characters like troubled, ex-army Geordie Michael (Simon Greenall) and beleaguered, unappreciated personal assistant Lyn (Felicity Montagu) also benefit from nice, little bits of business which are simultaneously funny and which enhance these already rich characters - from Michael's revelation that he sleeps in a cupboard because "sometimes me brother wants the whole bed to himself" to Lyn's heartbreaking reaction to the fact that somebody is going to make a cup of coffee for her. For his part, as the nominal antagonist, Meaney's Pat is another subtle and surprisingly developed character, worthy of as much sympathy as derision - making him a fitting addition to the ensemble.

There are a few times when it falls a little flat in translation to a feature film format, with some gentle parody of Hollywood movies that comes off like B-Team 'Hot Fuzz', but for most of its length 'Alpha Papa' feels like a very good episode of the TV series. For some that might seem like an example of damning with faint praise but, as a fan of the character, nothing could be further from the truth. It's nice to spend an hour and a half with the infuriating, selfish, egotistical character that is Alan Partridge: rooting for him against our better judgement and sometimes even finding yourself touched by that ever-present, underlying sense that somewhere inside he's all too aware of his inadequacy. There's something very humane and humble about Coogan's Alan Partridge: on one level a figure of fun and a satirical assault on middle aged Top Gear viewers everywhere, but on another a strange testament to empathy and understanding of even the most wretched people.

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